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Petition to reconsider Blair Mountain historic status denied

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The interim keeper of the National Register of Historic Places has denied a petition asking her to reconsider the removal of the historic Blair Mountain battlefield site from the national register.

But the interim keeper, Carol D. Shull, said the controversy surrounding the site could be best addressed by renominating the site for the National Register. She encouraged West Virginia state officials to do that.

The Battle of Blair Mountain was fought in August 1921 along a 15-mile ridgeline between Boone and Logan counties. It was the largest armed conflict in U.S. labor history.

At least 7,500 coal miners marched south from Marmet over Blair Mountain, trying to organize nonunion mines in Logan County. The miners confronted a force of 3,000 law officers, many of whom worked for coal companies.

In recent months, arguments have focused on whether a majority of local landowners want to preserve the historic battlefield or open it up to coal mining.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, Sierra Club and Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition filed the latest petition in an effort to save the historic site from possible mining operations, including mountaintop removal mining.

Dianne Brady, co-director of OVEC, based in Huntington, said on Wednesday, "As the site of the biggest labor struggle in U.S. history, Blair Mountain's historical significance is undeniable. We will examine our options, including litigation."

Andrea C. Foster, a Washington lawyer who represents the three groups trying to preserve Blair Mountain, said on Wednesday, "This doesn't mean the next step is to go to court. We haven't made any decision about litigation yet, or about where to file a lawsuit."

Shull believes the whole process should begin again.

In a July 29 letter to Foster, she said she believes the recent petition filed by the three groups "does not present a basis for the Keeper to reconsider the petition....

"We believe renomination is the most equitable means of addressing the public's concerns and resolving the confusion that has persisted during the nomination process."

In a July 29 letter to Randall Reid-Smith, commissioner of the West Virginia Division of Culture and History, Shull asked him to renominate the site to the National Register.

 "We believe that renomination of Blair Mountain Battlefield will address the concerns of the petitioners and others who have contacted us about the removal of Blair Mountain Battlefield. I urge you to begin this process as soon as possible," Shull wrote.

State Culture and History officials were unavailable for comment Wednesday.

"We have no problems with filing another petition for reconsideration," Foster said. "We think the error is so clear cut, we want to give them the chance to correct it."

Gordon Simmons, president of the West Virginia Labor History Association, believes a key factor in the ongoing debate is the desire of coal companies, including Massey Energy, to mine coal on the Blair Mountain site.

"If they blow the place apart, all the historic and archaeological value of it will be destroyed," he said. "They will not only get valuable coal, but destroy part of the state's history."

Reach Paul J. Nyden at pjnyden@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5164,


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